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Love @ First Note

     

(left) Justin Lo sings, and (right) Kary Ng and Alex Fong in Love @ First Note.

Year: 2006
Director: Dennis S.Y. Law
Producer: Dennis S.Y. Law, Herman Yau Lai-To, Paco Wong
Cast: Justin Lo, Kary Ng Yiu-Fei, Alex Fong Lik-Sun, Lam Suet, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Tien Niu, Keith Lee, Stephy Tang Lai-Yun, Theresa Fu Wing, Miki Yeung Oi-Gan, Sasha Hou Sa-Sa, George Lam Chi-Cheung, Leo Koo Kui-Kei
The Skinny: Not terrible for what it is - which is self-indulgent teen romantic drama with an extra helping of Cantopop thrown in. Featuring all the Cookies. Yippee.
  Review
by Kozo:

     Director Dennis Law (The Unusual Youth) goes back to the youth romance well for Love @ First Note, a sometimes agreeable but mostly self-indulgent youth romance/comedy/drama that marks the starring debut of hot Hong Kong singer Justin Lo. Known for his fine singing voice and for never removing his hat, Lo turns in a likable performance as Kei, an unambitious singer/songwriter who lives in Tai Po with his seamstress mother (Tien Niu). Kei is old pals with Kristy (Kary Ng of Cookies), who dresses all in black and works at a second hand record store run by odd duck Lobo (Tats Lau). By day, the two old friends spar and pal around, and by night they hit the local clubs, where wannabe popstars ply their unpolished wares. When visiting the clubs along with Kei and Kristy, the viewer gets a heavy earful of Cantopop, none of which is subtitled for the Cantonese-deficient. More on that later.
     Kristy develops an attraction to Tony (Alex Fong Lik-Sun), a rich kid who shops at Kristy's workplace for old Barry Manilow records. At the same time, Jack Lee (Keith Lee), lead singer of the local band Silver Mosquitoes, decides Kristy must be his. However, Kristy isn't into a self-involved bastard like Jack, and spurns him defiantly, causing Jack to vow revenge. Soon after, Tony is asking Kristy to a semi-upscale shindig, where Jack and some other upper class kids (including Stephy Tang and Theresa Fu of Cookies) hang out. But do these upper class kids have the best intentions towards lower-class Kristy? And what about Kei? He seems to live his life bending to Kristy's and everybody else's will. Will Kei grow a spine? Will Kristy realize that Kei is really the best guy for her? Will Kristy ever get her layabout father (Lam Suet) to get off his ass and go get a job? And what the heck is Miki Yeung (also of Cookies) wandering around in the background for?
     Love @ First Note was co-produced by Paco Wong, head honcho of Gold Label, the record label/artists management company that currently owns the Cookies, Alex Fong, Justin Lo, and a bunch of other Hong Kong entertainers. Basically, we're looking at massive synergy for Love @ First Note, which corrals a slew of Gold Label performers, pushes their songs and products, and even tries to be coy about it. During one scene in a karaoke club, Kei sings the theme song to Fatal Contact - which was also directed by Dennis Law, produced by Paco Wong, and stars a bunch of Gold Label performers - after which he talks openly about how Fatal Contact stars a bunch of Gold Label people, and even calls the film a "must see". As if that ultra-obvious plug weren't enough, the film calls attention to the casting of Miki Yeung as, uh, somebody in the film. Basically, Miki wanders around with no discernible purpose until Stephy and Theresa (playing, quite literally, dumb girls) blatantly ask her what she's doing in the movie. The answer: ensuring that Gold Label fans get their fill of Gold Label faces. To top it all off, there's a cameo by Gold Label superstar Leo Koo. Yay for marketing!
     Cross-sell overload aside, Love @ First Note does manage some low-key charm, though it's very reminiscent of the John Hughes school of filmmaking. Given the situations, Kary Ng's Kristy could be a stand-in for Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, with Justin Lo and Alex Fong as the Jon Cryer and Andrew McCarthy replacements, respectively. Basically, poor girl with layabout dad flirts with rich boy, only to feel rejected by upper class society and fall back upon poor boy. The big differences here are that the poor girl doesn't seem to remotely care about ending up with the rich boy, and the poor boy is one helluva singer. Justin Lo can obviously carry a tune, and is a likable enough fellow, despite his major sports fan faux pas of wearing both New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox gear simultaneously. Kary Ng offers a more convincing range of expression than some (though perhaps not all) of her Cookie contemporaries, but Alex Fong is incredibly wooden in an annoyingly underwritten role. That the film eventually leans on his single guy plight to wring some pathos seems like cheap manipulation at best.
     Still, Love @ First Note gets extra points for eschewing the flashier Hong Kong locations for New Territories-located Tai Po. Billed in Lonely Planet as a "hi-tech industrial center", Tai Po seems to be a more relaxing locale than the typical crowded youth hangouts, e.g. Mongkok or Causeway Bay. The location may have seeped a bit too much into the production, as Love @ First Note can be maddeningly slow and even listless in execution. Many scenes go on far too long, and there's a distinct lack of energy present in Dennis Law's staging and direction. As a light youth romance, the film has some pluses, but is overall hard to recommend to the casual Hong Kong Cinema fan, especially those who aren't local, i.e. they don't speak the language. Love @ First Note spends an inordinate amount of time watching singers simply performing, and some crucial info actually seems to get dispensed in song lyrics. Considering that the DVD from Garry's Trading Co. lacks English subtitles during all the songs, a deep international audience doesn't seem to be in the offing for Love @ First Note. That is, unless you're a rabid Gold Label fan, in which case the film speaks a universal language. That language: marketing. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Garry's Trading Co.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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